Browsing through books: Farewell to growth by Serge Latouche

Serge Latouche’s book Farewell to growth (translated by David Macey, orig. Petit traité de la décroissance sereine) is a classic in degrowth literature. I first familiarised with it in 2010, when I attended my first degrowth conference in Finland entitled Alternatives to the growth economy. It was a high-profile meeting organised by The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. One of the keynotes was delivered by Serge Latouche, so I have had a chance to hear his thoughts.

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Latouche, S. (2010). Farewell to growth. Polity.

The book is organised in three sections: (1) The territory of de-growth; (2) A concrete utopia; and (3) A political programme. The first section focuses on the critique of continuous economic growth, while the other two sections describe and map how growth and development could be challenged in practice.

The number of pages is a bit over 100, so it is a compact book. Latouche refers to many relevant debates but explains them only in passing. After 8 years of dwelling in the degrowth movement and thinking, my ability to interpret the book has definitely improved. Thus, re-reading it felt easier, but not at all less radical or inspiring.

Basically, Latouche suggests a complete change of paradigm(s), i.e. the way we think about living on planet Earth. The ultimate precondition is a better treatment of everyone and everything living on this planet. The destruction of life in the name of economic gains has stop because it makes no sense. Latouche wisely notes that actually many agree on this point, but few are able to imagine what paradigm changes mean or if they can manage to do that, how such paradigm changes could ever be obtained. However, the tone of the book seems hopeful. He puts trust in people’s movements beyond political parties and maps the role of the degrowth movement as a watchdog that encourages different institutions and actors to carry out the paradigm change.

Throughout the book he addresses questions asked from degrowth proponents, such as what the role of localism is, how do we feed everyone, and is degrowth humanist. Some of the answers are based on pragmatic solutions, while other answers tackle the actual questions and show how the question itself is coloured by the ideology of growth, development, and modernism.

Finally, Farewell to growth is truly “a pleasure to read”, as the book’s back cover text promises. That’s not only because I sympathise with the message, but because of the way Latouche has written the book. In short, this condensed manifesto is a must for anyone interested in degrowth debates.

A new series of posts: “Browsing through books”

Reading is a skill. In her excellent book about writing academic journal articles Wendy Belcher describes how some successful academics read. A revelation: they don’t! Well, they do but strategically and not from cover to cover. This is because there’s too much to read and not enough time. Belcher (2009, pp. 140–141) writes that

“Even a good reader, someone who manages to read five books a week, week in and week out, will only read 250 books a year or about 10,000 books over a career, Since most read more like one book a week, or 2,000 books total, our ability to read even a fraction of what is published in our discipline is limited.”

As a result, academics skim and read only parts of texts. Also, they choose what to read from cover to cover. And that’s fine.

When I started my postdoc in 2017, I was given an advice from someone finishing their postdoc and entering the world of tenured positions: “Postdoc is the best time of your life to read books.” I start to understand that now. When doing exploratory and multidisciplinary research (that’s me), it is important to read many books that present relevant studies to learn from, than only few in depth. Therefore, as part of the remaining time of my postdoc, I have a goal of browsing through more books. This skill complements my dear hobby of reading books from cover to cover.

This post is an official start of a public series in my blog titled Browsing through Books. I will post reviews on (browsed) books that I consider important for my project. Given that I’m involved with on-going fieldwork, my goal is to post 1-4 times a month.

As Gretchen Rubin claims in her book Better than before, for some people making public commitments helps them to achieve the goals they find important. And guess what, since I started to plan this series, I’m already done with one book and halfway to another one. So, for me, sharing is really caring.

I also need your help: In case you have nice templates in mind for academic book reviews or examples of blogs featuring fun and creative reviews, please comment and recommend.

And most importantly, stay tuned for my first reviews: Latouche’s Farewell to growth and Stengers’ Another Science is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Science.

 

References: Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: a guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

The importance of reading

When I was 8 years old, my primary school substitute teacher hinted that I might have faked my reading diary. For two weeks I marked two books read per week. I assure you I wasn’t. There was absolutely no incentive for faking anything since it was a pro reading campaign detached from grades. Simply, I just loved reading and felt that finally I got to share all the fun things I had found.

This unfortunate story has a happy ending: others’ opinions didn’t make me lose my interest in reading. In fact, I’ve kept my hobby and made it into a profession as a researcher. Now, imagine if I had kept a reading diary since I learned how to read. Not meaning to brag – or seem like a fraud – but that list would be massive.

But in research one can never read enough so I’m definitely in the right business. I plough through smaller or bigger piles of books and (digitalised) articles every week. Be assured that my pile includes more than two pieces per week. I’m loving it! My sincerest thanks to great library services.

I’ve also learned to stop reading something if it has not attracted my attention for long enough. In diplomatic terms, that’s called skimming.

My favourite reading meme
My favourite reading meme

Partying is reading. Reading is learning. And there’s no research without learning. There’s no living without learning. Someone would say there’s no living without partying, which is practically the same thing as proven in the quote above. So let’s keep on reading and learning.

The surprising things I miss from home

In addition to friends, family, and overall familiarity, there are some surprising things I miss from home. Six months elsewhere goes past fast in almost any conditions. But these little observations remind me that I’m not at home.

1. Having more than two big tea mugs
It is surprising how little material we need for living a full life. In reality two big tea mugs is enough. However, having more than one really increases the probability of at least one being clean when there is the odd moment to sit down and relax over a hot BIG mug of tea. I miss my beautiful collection of Iittala mugs designed by Klaus Haapaniemi.

2. Familiar tea flavours
The Danes have a pervasive taste for peppermint flavoured tea. Another one is liquorice but I don’t mind that as much as I do the peppermint. It seems to be in every non-black tea blend. I’ve become somewhat an expert in interpreting the trade descriptions. And in causing a long queue in a coffee shop. Sorry.

3. A bookshelf
As we rented an unfurnished apartment, we needed to get some furniture. But we wanted to get as little furniture as possible. It has resulted in a life without a bookshelf. Now in a family with two readaholics – one toddler and one academic – this decision has its consequences. Now it seems we have no tables to set aside things as they are covered with books. The consequences of living without a bookshelf is demonstrated in the photo.

No bookshelf

All in all, it has been comforting to experience that we are just fine with less furniture and material. We don’t need that much of stuff – except books – and life is still good. Perhaps it is even a bit better. During this time I have noticed what is important to me: having a big mug full of my favourite tea by a stacked bookshelf.